Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

In Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda’s film ‘Air Doll’, an extremely strange diatribe on the pointlessness of being human, we meet the extremely strange and mighty pointless human Hideo (Itsuji Itao). Hideo works at a Big Boy. I didn’t even know they had Big Boy’s in Japan. Hideo is a server at a Big Boy and apparently has been a server for a number of years and he also, apparently, isn’t very good at it since he routinely takes abuse from the Big Boy chef. Or cook. I don’t know if Big Boy actually employs chefs. The one thing that Hideo has to look forward to is coming home to his girl Nozomi who is attentive, generous and gives my man no problems. She’s also an inflatable love doll. When we first see Hideo and Nozomi together, they are in bed, he is having an in depth conversation with her and then he engages in sex with the doll. Spirited sex at that. I’m am so glad the director showed us this early and got it out of the way. Koreeda did force us to watch Hideo cleaning out his dolls removable vagina. The things I learn from watching movies.

Then one day when Hideo leaves for his daily dose of Big Boy abuse Nozomi (Doona Bae) comes to life. ‘A heart’ she would inform us that she has somehow received. Once she gets her bearings Nozomi puts on one of Hideo’s kinky outfits he brought for her, a French maid costume, leaves the apartment and spends some considerable time exploring her surroundings. Being a quick study Nozomi gets a grip on the language, stumbles into a video store and soon finds a job working at this video store. She also makes it a point to come home every night so Hideo won’t be suspicious that his ‘girlfriend’ is missing. You would think that Hideo would’ve noticed that plastic has somehow turned into flesh but we’re just going to roll with that.

And so it goes as we follow Nozomi around town as she affects the lives, directly and indirectly, of the people around her. People who are almost all uniformly lonely and miserable. One of these lonely, miserable people is Nozomi’s colleague at the video store Junichi (Arata) who Nozomi’s brand new heart falls for. Can the young woman who has to seriously avoid sharp edges and the young man who really enjoys manually

inflating deflating women find everlasting love? Will the old man find some dignity? Will the aging woman find the fountain of youth? Will the binge eating bulimic stop sticking a finger down her throat? Will Nozomi get the answers to any of these burning questions? Your guess is as good as mine.

‘Air Doll’ is a very odd, slow moving, sometimes frustrating examination of the emptiness of the human existence. It’s not an overly complex or complicated film considering the director lays out his imagery and messages plainly and clearly, but despite the clarity of the message ‘Air Doll’ often feels like a film that lacks focus. If we take a moment to concentrate on this message, one that centers around the overall emptiness of our lives, Koreeda-san uses many a slick and clever method in delivering this message. Nozomi is empty. Literally. She often laments this emptiness she possesses to others who in turn respond that there are many like her which Nozomi takes to heart. But while physically empty Nozomi is emotionally full. Nozomi cherishes every bit of life from rain drops to the sounds of wind chimes to the actions of those around her. We, on the other hand cherish none of that. Locked into our mundane existence, taking advantage, allowing things we can’t control to negatively affect us or equally allowing simple things we can control to negatively affect us. I get all of that, not that we, the viewers, had much choice in the matter since the filmmakers are beating us over the head with this, but there were times where the whimsy of the movie was enchanting.

Naturally the heart of the enchantment of this rests on the soft shoulders of Doona Bae who I have to say possesses one of the brightest and most disarming smiles of any actress, or person for that matter, in my recent memory. When the character of Nozomi smiles, you almost can’t help but to smile with her. It is the magic of discovery and the overall humanity that Doona Bae gives her character that ultimately makes ‘Air Doll’ worth watching, and I’m sure this was a very difficult and challenging performance for the actress, possibly made even more challenging considering I don’t how much Japanese the Korean actress knew before accepting the role.

But the film does move slowly. Frustratingly so at times. Doona Bae delivered a wonderful performance but watching Nozomi stumble around town for what seemed like eons got old after a while. And sometimes the whimsical nature of the film simply devolves into outright silly nonsense, mostly provided to us by the numerous side characters, some of whom seemed more tacked on as an afterthought as opposed to being an integrated part of the overall narrative.

‘Air Doll’ ended up being a mixed bag for me. The message was clear, the performances, especially Doona Bae, were good but the film often got lost deep within itself and had trouble finding its way out.

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